#1 ten tips for new nursing faculty – name tags at school

new series

Announcing a series of blog entries for nurse educators. For the next few blogs I am going to share some hands-on ways to make the class hum. Surely you know what I mean. Sometimes every one gets to a class with enthusiasm, ready to share and participate; other times the group trudges in, head down and dispirited. Forced to be there against their will. Which class room experience would you rather have?

today’s tip – name tags

Something I do at the beginning of each semester is to get a box of name tags, the pin-on kind. on the first day, there is a table at the door to the class with lots of marker pens. Instructions: “write your first name on this tag, using the whole tag; write it in letters so big that an old man can read it from across the room”  then I explain the system for collecting them at the end of the class.

was this worth writing about?

Yes, this is so simple it sounds stupid, perhaps not worth writing about. but for those who dismiss it: do you know the name of every student in your class? especially at the beginning of nursing school, the students have come from prerequisite science classes where maybe there were 300 people in a lecture hall ( happens in a lot of Universities). They become accustomed to the idea of anonymity.  There is a lot of sociological work about what happens to people when they feel they are totally anonymous….. In a work setting in health care, anonymity is never an option. start now to get people used to this.

an alternative

The University used to photograph every nursing student and keep the photos on a shared database with their names. for cost reasons we don’t do that anymore. But, with the advent of smart phones, one thing I did recently was to take each student’s picture using my own smartphone, along with the email and number. I indexed the photos in such a way that if I forgot the students name during class, I could scroll through the photos and remind myself. At the end of the semester I delete each class, but then I find I can still remember them next semester even though I have to learn sixtyfive new names and faces.


the students will learn each other’s name. In a big classroom, don’t assume that they know each other. sometimes they only stick with a subgroup such as from their clinical site.

you grab their attention when you call each student by name in class. The students know that they can’t be anonymous during a class discussion.

if every one picks up their name tag at the beginning of each class, you can easily tell who is absent simply by looking at the leftover name tags.

If the students are wearing a name tag with LARGE LETTERS, you don’t need to  be close by to remind yourself who they are. For a male faculty in this age of political correctness, this is a good thing,  since there is a taboo about glancing down at a woman’s thorax to read their name in small letters.  the awkwardness of this can be avoided.


people lose the name tags.

people may protest that it isn’t “cool” – and frankly, sometimes the faculty can’t be bothered….. that is a problem. You do need to get the faculty to buy in and enforce it if the course is team taught. A box of name tags costs $20 and you can’t afford to buy a new box each week.

invariably, as the semester proceeds, people sometimes try to fool you by trading name tags with somebody else or perhaps deciding that everyone will be “Barbara” on a particular day. Actually, when that happens, I interpret it to indicate that the students are having fun.

ways to use this system

we once had a cohort in our lab class where the students seemed to form cliques that did not mix. In that lab session, there were three clinical groups and they stayed amongst themselves. nursing students need to learn to work well with others and to keep themselves fresh. We decided to put a small fish sticker (like you buy at the Drugstore for kids) and add a sticker to each name tag. When the time came to break up into groups of three, we told them to arrange themselves so each group of three was composed of one person from each of the three groups, using the fish stickers as a guide.  problem solved.

Philosophy of cliques

I have referred to this a bunch of times without clarifying why it is so important to break up cliques when they form. Generally, when the students clump together, the subgroup will include all the top students in one clump. When that happens, the lesser achieving students are deprived from working alongside them and learning from their peers. I will write a longer blog on this later – I believe that forming cliques is something that contributes to ” Nurses Eating Their Young”

We used variations of this all semester long. Whenever the class breaks into smaller groups, you can choose to direct the class as to how to compose each group.

Thes tips all come under the header of “Classroom Management” techniques – if you were teaching in third grade, you would probably take a three-credit course in this. Not so much of a priority in nursing education.



Filed under classroom management, nursing education

3 responses to “#1 ten tips for new nursing faculty – name tags at school

  1. pat

    my classes switch every 6 weeks by the last week I might know 1/2 of the students names. I LOVE this idea and will be using it in the fall of 2012

    • you will find a big difference in your abIility to “control the class.” when you are able to address each person by name within the first week. “control” has negative connotations for some I suppose, but to really pay attention to this issue at the beginning ( even if you have to nag) will pay off in a big way.

      I flat out tell people to use their own name when speaking to me as a reminder.

      In a hospital, we expect the nurses to wear a name tag and to say the patient’s name – let’s start that here in class and at the lab so that we work out the bugs before we ever get to the hospital.

      i will devote a future blog to the idea of using your smartphone to aid in this. the students are waaaaay ahead of the faculty in use of technology…….

      please share with every other new faculty you know and encourage them to subscribe ( where are you located, anyway?)

      Also, one cohort we had three Jennifers and three Ashleys….. a whole nother story –

  2. John Casken

    a variant. Use old file folders to make desk name tags. Each one makes about 3 tags. Again big letters. I also ask them to use the name they want me to call them – James might want to be called Jim and Joe might prefer Joseph. And I collect the name tags at the end of the class and give them out at the next class – keeps my memory working and tho’ I can’t think of them all the first return class after two or three I have them down.
    I agree name tgs are very important – then I can use their names.

    cheers, John

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